The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday takes up a lower court’s ruling that some Virginia districts were deliberately redrawn to diminish the impact of the African American vote – an urgent issue as the eastern swing state prepares for legislative elections.
The state, whose population is nearly 20 percent black, underwent redistricting in 2011 by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, the lower house of the state legislature.
Residents mounted a legal challenge, arguing that the electoral map was drawn to concentrate African American voters in certain districts, in order to diminish their influence in other districts.
The stakes are important in a country where most blacks vote for Democrats, while whites tend to favor Republicans.
Electoral redistricting, or “gerrymandering,” as it is widely known, has long been used by American political parties to gain advantage in elections.
The word gerrymandering was inspired by a 19th-century Republican governor, Elbridge Gerry, who redrew a district in his state to such an extent it was said to resemble a salamander.
Next week, partisan gerrymandering is back in front of the Supreme Court. So we looked at House election results from 1992-2018 to see how a party's vote share corresponded with the seats they won. It's not what you'd imagine … https://t.co/NNH3xpEAoP pic.twitter.com/eKKhGsdmES
— Sarah E. Frostenson (@sfrostenson) March 18, 2019
A lower court found in favor of the plaintiffs but the Supreme Court, the first time it took up the issue, found that the court’s arguments were flawed and sent the case back.
In its new ruling, the lower court found that voters’ skin color had played a preponderant role in the mapping of 11 districts, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The court’s judges approved a redistricting map drawn up to correct the 2011 map, and analysts say the changes appear to favor Democrats.
The House of Delegates’ majority Republicans are appealing the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court.
The nation’s top court must first decide whether the Republican members of the lower house have standing to appeal the ruling. Normally, it would fall to the state’s attorney general to appeal but Virginia’s attorney general, a Democrat, has opted not to.
If the Supreme Court decides in favor of the Republicans’ appeal, it will then proceed to rule on the substance of the case.
Its task is not easy because the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 law that sought to remove barriers to African Americans exercising their right to vote, allows black voters to be grouped in districts to ensure they have some representatives.
But it is illegal to concentrate black voters in certain districts in order to weaken their overall electoral impact.
The Supreme Court should rule before the summer, but It’s possible that would come too late for the next state election on November 5, when all seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate are up for grabs.
More on the Subject
Academic research on the topic shows a broad consensus that the notion that voter fraud has any effect on electoral outcomes is a myth. Voter suppression, however, remains a real and serious threat to American democracy.
Despite the abundance of evidence that illegal voting does not meaningfully impact elections, many states have taken measures ostensibly aimed at cracking down on it. These measures – advertently or inadvertently – can disenfranchise people in vulnerable demographics by making it difficult or impossible for them to vote.
North Carolina legislators passed a law in 2013 gutting early voting opportunities, limiting the number of polling locations and strictly requiring certain kinds of identification to cast ballots.
A federal court later struck down the law, saying it targeted African Americans with “surgical precision.”